Lilly Mae turns three

You’re three today. And I’m tired, short on words. That feels unfair to you, but then I realize it’s precisely the same kind of unfairness you deal with in general… I’m tired and scattered—too much to give you the attention, discipline, teaching your siblings got at this age.

You’re a champ. Also? you bring so much delight. If I were to pick a single word to sum you up, that would be it: Delight. You are generally so happy just to be alive, and you bring us all along.

This year, you’ve learned to talk. You went from random vowel sounds in August to a confident chatterbox in April, when you graduated out of speech with Miss Joan. I still don’t always understand you, but now it’s because you haven’t yet learned to give context.

So, in reflection of your hilarious self, I will give a few snippets from life now, without much context.

“Why you lookin’ at me with that big eyes?!?”

This. No reason not to be fabulous on the toilet.

“I WANT SARAH COME HOME AND PUT ME TO BED!”

“Katherine hurt my feelings……. I want Papa to come throw me out the window!” [“throw you out the window” is Smith parlance for “put you to bed.”]

“MAMA! Pull yo’ hair back and put yo’ glasses ON!”

“Yo’ not a bad mama. Yo’ a good mama. It’s ALL. YO’. FAULT.”

Darling girl, you’re my favorite Lilly Mae. I love how genuinely happy you are to see people you love—you smile, squeal, and happy dance like someone just offered you an ice cream cone… for breakfast. You’re growing up just right. I love your compassion. Yesterday, you had my full attention (the only reason you ever volunteer to use the toilet, I’m pretty sure), but when you heard Brian crying, you released me, saying simply, “Boyboy is sad. He needs you. Go help him.” I love that you still call your brother “Boyboy.” I love the way you grab my cheeks to rub noses with me. I love that anytime you’re sad—even if it’s because of me—your impulse is to reach up to me and say (with your huge, forlorn brown eyes), “I need you luffs!”

You have all my luffs, all the time, baby girl. Thanks for being mine.

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pride month (thoughts from a basic Christian straight girl)

Warning: this is very likely to make my progressive friends mad because it’s too conservative and my conservative friends mad because it’s too progressive. Basically, I’m bracing myself. You might consider doing the same.

I had a conversation lately with a friend whose workplace celebrates Pride Month. They were ordering rainbow t-shirts, and she opted out. She wasn’t up for celebrating a lifestyle at odds with her faith. And I appreciate her conviction.

But I don’t share it.

My relationship with Pride Month has undergone a few iterations over my life. I’ve grown up believing that marriage is God’s design for a man and a woman and sex is His plan within marriage. As an early teen, my image of Gay Pride Marches (as I remember them in the 90s, before the L, B, T, Q, and + got added, at least in the mainstream) was this: naked gay men riding bicycles in a huge mob down the street. Y’all, I have NO IDEA where this came from. I’m just telling you.

Not too long after, I saw some actual footage or maybe a newspaper photo of a march and, lo! Zero naked men on bicycles, so the image in my head got a little more realistic and a lot less weird.

But the image in my heart remained: a bunch of people with an Agenda to to normalize the Homosexual Lifestyle and steal the rainbow, which was God’s idea, and therefore belonged more to Us than to Them.

Big, embarrassed sigh.

Pride Month, for me, has been aptly named. It’s the month that all my pride—the sin God hates—has been on full display.

My stance toward LGBTQ folks has been the classic “love the sinner, hate the sin” for most of my life.

But then I started paying attention to stories. Notably, BT Harman’s Blue Babies Pink (I listened to the podcast, but it’s available online as a blog series) and Justin Lee’s Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Here were a couple of people who grew up just like I did—Jesus-loving teens in Jesus-loving families. They believed the same things about marriage that I do, and (like me) neither hated nor feared gay people—just more sinners in need of a savior. But then these guys realized their sexuality was at odds with their faith. So they did what I would have: push that business down. Live faithfully. Maybe tell a trusted friend about the problem help me stay on the straight and narrow.

Both of these guys, after years of plan A, did some theological digging to figure out what God actually thinks about homosexuality. Lee laid out his path in Torn and it’s intellectually honest and undertaken with fear and trembling—definitely not a mission to excuse sins he wanted to commit. I don’t come to all the same conclusions he did, but something in me shifted: there are really people who really love Jesus who are both “us” and “them.” Maybe the us/them dichotomy isn’t helpful here.

Here’s my position towards members of the LGBTQ community now, and it’s the same as it is for people outside of it: “Love the sinner. The end.” Now, will I talk about sin? Obviously. Sin, in the most beautiful and poetic plot twist, is part of the gospel, which is amazing beyond reason. I will bring up your sin (of whatever variety) to you in two cases:

  • You love Jesus and we have a relationship such that I know you’re caught in something outside His express will or you’re doing something destructive. That won’t be all we talk about—if you’re stuck in a mess, I want to be especially, extra sure you know I love you and you and I are okay—but I will do my best to point you to Jesus.
  • The Holy Spirit won’t leave me alone. This happened a couple of years ago—not all of the above conditions were satisfied, but the Lord gave me the words that were needed, and after several months of His prodding (my own sinful hesitance to obey), I said the words. And it was the worst. But I knew for certain He was asking me to do it, and I would do it again.

I hope you would do the same for me. (My sin is every bit as offensive to a holy God as yours, whatever yours is.)

As for Pride Month?

I want to go to an event and pass out hugs, snacks, water. Basically I’d like to pass out general kindness in whatever way I can. My world is small and not especially diverse. I have a couple of LGBTQ friends, but not many. I want to hear more stories, ask more questions, sit with more pain, love like Jesus. I’ve spent years looking at the sin rather than the sinner, which is basically opposite the way Jesus loves. He didn’t ignore sin, but he was much, MUCH harder on the prideful religious people (me) than he was on the prostitutes and drunks and scam-artist tax collectors. He partied with the ones the religious folks shunned. I want to chill with the ones the church shuts out. Not in order to reform or teach or get some sort of “hanging out with sinners” merit badge, but because they’re people, and if they’ve been unwelcome in “my” spaces, I need to go to to “theirs” or we won’t meet and thus can’t be friends. And when we hang out? Sexuality won’t take center stage any more than it does in my conversations with straight/cisgender people.

I was reading this morning and stumbled upon this:

We’re supposed to just love the people in front of us.We’re the ones who tell them who they are. We don’t need to spend as much time as we do telling them what we think about what they’re doing.

Bob Goff, Everybody Always

So, friend, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, life stage, here’s who you are:

You are created in the image of the God who loves you.
You are beloved.
Your sin has put you at odds with God.

He wants you to be with Him.
God chose to send His Kid to die to solve your sin problem.

You are worth dying for.

it doesn’t work! (K turns 7.)

Hey, darling Katherine.

You’re so ridiculously endearing. I mean, those freckles!

I see you trying, baby. I see you wanting to choose community, being afraid people won’t see past poor choices you’ve made. I see you enjoying (and being really good at) generosity. You’re growing into yourself in so many lovely ways.

I know it’s not always easy.

You try so hard to control your impulses, and one particularly frustrating afternoon, I suggested (again) that you ask Jesus for help—He loves to answer those prayers. This is what you yelled at me: “I TRIED! It doesn’t WORK!”

I’m not sure what to tell you. Because, in truth, it doesn’t always “work” for me, either. There were a couple days in a row that made this blatantly clear—on Wednesday, I had nothing to give; it was a bad brain day for me, and I was having a hard time managing all the responsibilities that go with being an adult and a mom to four smallish kids. I cried out for help, and the Spirit worked in and through me. It wasn’t stellar, but there was just enough grace to get through the day.

Thursday was basically the same story: bad brain day, couldn’t adult, kids overwhelming, cry for help.

And I fell flat on my face.

I can’t really explain it. Why did He help me Wednesday, but leave me to fend for myself on Thursday? Where was He? I mean, God doesn’t change, so it had to be an error of mine, but I’m as baffled and frustrated as you.

So when you indict God in a way that’s so distinctly Katherine, I’m not sure how to respond.

But here’s what I do know: He’s working in your heart. I can see it over the last year, as you’ve become more and more interested in building community with your siblings (even your annoying brother). I see it in the way you are starting to look past “what Katherine wants” to “what is right.” So when you ask for help, He answers, perhaps just not as immediately as you (or I) would like.

I wonder if it’s a little like fruit. Remember the little grapefruit tree in Hawaii? Do you remember that time you and Jenna picked every grapefruit you could reach, trying to be helpful? Some of them were ripe and edible, and some were not. I think fruit in us is likewise not always ready when we want it, but it’s always on the way. Do you think perhaps it’s the same with your heart (and mine)? Maybe it’s always growing, just not always ready to be harvested.

Here’s the other thing I know for sure: you and I need Jesus. And the days when we know we need help and we ask and it doesn’t seem to come? Those just make it really obvious. And that’s a good thing. It’s kind of the Lord to show us our need so we feel it. It isn’t any fun, but it is kind.

Katherine, you’re growing. You’re learning. I can see Jesus drawing your heart to His. Your dad and I were talking the other week—we both wonder who you’re growing up to be. With some kids, we can make reasonable guesses at who they’ll be as adults. But you? No idea. Neither of us can quite picture it. But we do know you’re going to be unstoppable. A force of nature. (Actually, you’re both of those things now.)

You’re amazing, child. I’m so glad you’re mine. You’re growing up just right.


I wrote this piece before the weekend of her birthday. The day she turned seven, she was in rare form—uniformly kind, gracious, generous. I get glimpses of her sweetness throughout normal days, but it was a gift to see so much uninterrupted sweetness. I’d encourage you to click here for the bulk of the story, including the dandelions above. The short version is she spent all the money she’d earned a quarter at a time to buy gifts for her siblings. At the end of the afternoon, gifts were exchanged. Seven were opened. One was hers. And she was happy with the arrangement.

I can’t take any credit for her big heart. Katherine is the one of mine with whom I most regularly feel like a complete screw-up. She has a big heart, but also a big personality which regularly leads to big, inappropriate behavior. Her birthday felt like a gift: God reminding me that, while I have no idea what I’m doing, He does. He’s making something lovely, and she’s growing up just right.

Expressing Myself: When Creativity and Motherhood Collide

Hey! I’m over at Kindred Mom again today! Read on for part of the article or click here for the whole thing.

I finally did it.

I spent money on a journaling Bible and a few supplies. I’d been looking online at some various artistic Bible journaling, and it intrigued me. When the first baby came, I realized I no longer had time or space to dedicate to creating or the debris that accompanies it, so I packed up my scrapbooking supplies. The part of me that enjoys making pretty things has been more or less dormant ever since.

I added beauty to several Bible pages with passages that are meaningful to me as a way to linger and highlight them. I’m pleased with most of them and more confident in my ability to create there without doing something that feels like defacing Holy Scripture.

This time, I used the afternoon while my younger two napped to create something around one of my favorite passages. I prepped the page to prevent bleeding to the other side of the translucent sheet, traced some little flowers, sprayed some pigment, left it open on my dining room table to dry, and went on to another, more “productive” chore while I waited.

When I returned to finish it up, I realized somebody had already added some extra touches.

Somebody short.

Where did she find a Sharpie?!?

Click here to read the rest at Kindred Mom.

the spiritual discipline of watching tv

“Ohmygosh, I’ve found the BEST parenting book!
“You read a book? When do you find time?!?
“I don’t know… I don’t watch TV, so that helps.”
“Ohhhh.”

Video is a weirdly difficult medium for me. I can read or I can listen, but video requires both eyes and ears, frequently at normal speed (unlike reading or podcasts, both of which I consume much faster).

I like feeling productive. Actually, it’s deeper and more sinister than that—I need to feel productive. I’ve long equated my value with my usefulness. Watching TV for fun makes me panic a little. It feels like I’m letting time slip by that I could use to make myself worthier. Reading is fine—I have a huge stack of books to be read and a list of ones I’ve finished, so reading helps move them from one list to the other, which feels productive. But TV? No.

It’s a lingering misunderstanding of the gospel, really: I believe (regardless of what I “know”) that my value depends on me.

I believe I can make myself more acceptable by doing more, and less by wasting time.

In reality, I was created in the image of God (same as you) and my value stems from my Creator. My productivity is useless to change my worth.

As I typed that last sentence, my gut reaction is Bummer! What a waste of my effort! This shows how deep the utility-as-worth mindset is ingrained. That my effort is unrelated to my value is actually great news.

So I started watching The Good Place with Andrew on Netflix. And it’s hard. It’s hard not to have a laptop or phone up handy do things (or feel like I’m doing things) while I watch, or at least have paper and pen handy so I can write down things to do later.

It’s weird—watching a show clearly counter to the gospel helps me remember it. (The whole premise is an afterlife in the “good place” or the “bad place” based on a complex points system based on works.) But sitting down to laugh at a hilarious show with my husband and be specifically unproductive helps me remember that my worth isn’t related to my utility. It’s fasting from checking off my list, and it’s hard in exactly the same way as fasting from food is hard. There’s the habitual and compulsive turning toward what I’m abstaining from (in this case, doing things), a difficult and frustrating denial of that urge, and a reluctant repentance to what I’ve chosen instead.

Some part of me that prizes the to-do list is irritatedly harping that I’m just justifying laziness by cloaking it in terms of discipline, but at least I’m writing about it, and that counts as productive. And that part may be right. But the “laziness” pointing me toward rest, sabbath, and the gospel, so I’m going with it.

How about you? Any quirky spiritual disciplines that point you to the gospel? Also, if you fight the productivity-equals-worth lie, I’d love to hear how.

my next (small) right thing

2018 left me feeling a little battered. I know we’re almost into the second quarter of 2019, but it’s taken some time to get my head around last year. I started 2018 with such high ambitions. I had aspirations for my body, for my writing, for my home life. But then adrenal fatigue happened and basically ate March through December. To be fair, a lot of great things happened in each of those areas, but none of them according to plan. So when I sat down in December of 2018 to fill out my 2019 Powersheets and create a bunch of shiny, happy goals, I felt grumpy and resentful. I know 2018 was full of good and glory, but I can’t see it when I look through the “planning” lens. So, rather than an adorably ambitious and earnest “word of the year,” I chose “small” out of necessity and rebellion.

I resolved to grow in small ways, committing to small acts of obedience, and, most of all, remembering how small I am beside the bigness of the One who made everything.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I dedicated the whole of 2019 to doing my next right thing. I’m living my regular life in the regular way, but with an eye toward what small act of obedience is the next right thing for me to do.

I’m trying to be mindful of the mundane stuff that my life is made of right now, learning to enjoy the liturgy of laundry and dishes, homeschool and play, editorial calendars and writing dates. There’s no glamor here, just a boring and imperfect Jesus-follower, wife, mom, writer doing her regular thing.

One thing consistently helping me as I decide my non-glamorous, regular steps is a podcast, conveniently named “The Next Right Thing,” which has been giving me fifteen minutes of calm and a practical step every Tuesday for the last year and a half. Even more helpful is that the host and a favorite writer of mine (Emily Freeman) created an online course which I got for free because I preordered her book. It’s helpful without being overwhelming. And, yeah. You read right—The Next Right Thing is now a book and it’s coming NEXT TUESDAY. I’ve read it and can tell you the material continues to help, even if you’ve already heard the audio. Also important: it’s not exactly the same. There’s overlap, but the book really is worth reading, even if you’re a weirdo fangirl who has listened to the whole podcast *cough* twice.

Actually, there are a whole lot of preorder bonuses if you buy it before release day…

So if that sounds good to you, you can order it on Amazon (or really wherever), then put your info (including order number) in here. (Just scroll down a little.) As of right now, it’s $13.51 on Amazon (or $9.99 on kindle) which is a heckuva deal for all of that, I think.

Anyway. I feel my post getting infomercial-ish and I’m not a fan of that, but I am a fan of this book and the accompanying goodies. It’s helped as I falter through this year of embracing my smallness and it might help you, too.

And if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. Also, let me leave you with a quote that I’ve filtered decisions by since I first heard it.

mess and beauty

The retreat booklet read:

900P — Paint Prep (not stressful)

.

.

.

100P — SESSION/Paint (not stressful)

The “(not stressful)” was somewhat concerning, but at 9 Friday night, as we divided ourselves around six canvasses of various sizes, I tried to be obediently not stressed. The person who created the schedule for this women’s retreat is one of My People and I’m an obliger anyway, so I waited for instruction.

The plan was this: each table got a set of plastic cutlery, a spatula, a Styrofoam cup. Somebody would come to dump a blob of plaster mixed with water and glue on our canvas. We were to play with it and create texture.

Oh, also, each of the canvasses was to correspond to a particular character trait. (We got “unity.”)

My obliging nature goes only so far. My trust in my friend’s planning goes much farther, but still. When somebody glops runny goo onto a canvas in front of me and hands me a spatula and tells me to make unity with a handful of people previously unknown to me, I’m way outside of comfort. I concentrated on my breathing and playing with the corner of the canvas that was mine. (Yes, for unity, we sort of ended up each playing with our own segregated quarter of the canvas with our various tools. The irony was not lost on us.) The goo was fun, and at the end of prep, it actually looked pretty cool. Plus, with the swirl we added, somewhat communicated unity, so I held it together and even enjoyed myself.

The following afternoon, we gathered again around our now-textured canvases. We were handed three tubes of acrylic paint (red, dark red, red-orange at our table), a variety of paintbrushes, a cup of water, some paper towels and told to have fun. Again, I came in “not stressed” in compliance with instructions, but somewhere between the near-identical tubes of paint and the “have fun” my anxiety started rise.

Let me just spoil it for you: it was fine. And, once I got into it, fun.

And there was no way for it to not work out.

See, my friend delegated the art segments of the retreat to somebody with far more knowledge than I have. She knew she was working with a bunch of women who may or may not have any experience at all (many of whom are mothers who reflexively panic when goop and paint end up where they weren’t before) and prepared accordingly.

Something that felt weird and messy and stressful to me turned out to be lovely.

How often does this happen?

I have a bunch of seemingly random circumstances in front of me. I have no idea how they’re going to come together, but I’m pretty sure it’s a mess waiting to happen and I’m going to destroy this lovely blank canvas (of  a project or a day or a child or whatever I tend to put in the “blank canvas that I’m going to screw up” spot).

But as I listen to the One giving instructions and just do the thing He tells me to do, even if it’s a gooey mess, something lovely happens. The outcome depends less on me than it the One who designed the project. Yes, I’m involved. The end product looks different because I contributed, and I can be pleased with it. But the success is ultimately not mine—I’m just happy I get to be here.

Maybe next time, I can actually be not stressed.

how I quit struggling with my weight

Hey, friends! Once again, my piece is live on Kindred Mom. Click here to read the whole thing or read an excerpt below.

“Well, she’s a little heavier than I like to see for her length. Let’s talk about some strategies to handle this. Obesity is a serious health issue, so we want to nip it in the bud.”

I was present at this conversation, but I have no memory of it. I only know the bare details my mom told me, so this is conjecture. I was the pudgy “she” in question.

I was eight weeks old.

My mom, a first-timer at 28, took in the information Dr. Maples was giving. He had letters after his name. She had only been parenting for two months. Her gut said I was a baby and ought to be fed when I was hungry, but he had the experience to know. She did what I would have done in the same situation: she listened to the friendly, grandfatherly man in the white coat who treated hundreds of babies a year…

Read the rest here.

confessions of a high-maintenance mom

Hi! In a funny scheduling fluke, I ended up on Kindred  Mom with the last essay of January and the first essay of February. 

Double feature! 

You can read the whole piece here or continue on for an excerpt.


“So… dinner tomorrow. Any allergies? Restrictions? Strong preferences?”

“Nah. We’re pretty low-maintenance.”

I’ve had this conversation dozens of times over the years. In this case, we’d had this family over once, decided to make it a regular thing, and were about to head to their house for the first time. We both have relatively large families, but aside from sheer volume of food, all fourteen of us are easy enough to feed.

***

I’ve tried to be low-maintenance in as many areas as possible for as long as I can remember. It has its perks—I like being easy-to-get-along-with. It’s nice to be able to go with the flow, to be free of strong aversions. (Except scary movies. Hard pass.) But it has a shadow side, too. In the name of being low-maintenance, I’ve served others’ needs while completely ignoring my own.

Baby’s crying? I’ll go get her. No sense in you waking up when I’m gonna have to feed her anyway.

MAN, I’m hungry. Did I eat lunch? No, I don’t think so. Do six cold, half-eaten nuggets count?

Wow, it got late. But there are still chores to do. No biggie—I’ve been sleep-deprived since 2010. What’s one more hour folding laundry and washing dishes?

As I say it, I realize I sound like a martyr. I didn’t know, though. I thought I was being kind. Selfless. Serving. Those are good things, right? But I missed the growing resentment and the toll it was taking on my physical and mental health.

There were a lot of things I missed, actually… (read the rest here.)

free to quit

Hey, friends! I’m at Kindred Mom today, this time as a quitter. This is an excerpt. read the whole thing here. 


I am sweating. The not-so-tiny infant inside my enormous body and the church sanctuary with poor air handling combine to make me regret my choice to abandon my typical mom-bun and wear my long hair down. It’s sticking to my neck and face. More bothersome than the heat and my crazy hormones is the strain of parenting. I managed to herd them to the service on my own, but now I am in the very front row at church. This is where my mother-in-law sits. Because my husband is perpetually in the back at the soundboard, the prospect of extra grownup hands to wrangle my girls outweighs my general aversion to being in the front row. My 2- and 3-year-old girls are squirmy and whisper loudly at inappropriate times. They tap my hugely pregnant belly repeatedly and urgently, wanting to know why they can’t have crackers and juice (communion) for “snack” and when the music is coming so they can twirl with abandon in the aisle. My church is made largely of young families, so I’m not getting side-eye from fellow congregants; they seem mostly amused by my girls’ antics. I am not.

My church has Sunday School during the service, so they could go to class with kids their own age, have all kinds of noisy preschool fun, and eat raisins for snack instead of communion, but I don’t see any theological basis for dividing families for worship this way. I want my littles to feel like part of the larger church body. I want them to know what it looks like to worship with their family (well, with their mama, at any rate) and see Daddy serving as a sound guy. I want them to know how to sit quietly, scribbling on the children’s bulletins provided. There will be time later for interacting with their peers, but this is the time to lay a foundation for fellowship that will serve them for decades to come. I have visions of them sweetly scribbling away, munching on goldfish crackers, perhaps occasionally asking pertinent questions about the sermon in their best “library voices.” Visions that, despite my best effort every week for their entire lives, have remained unfulfilled.

***

That morning, I quit.

(read the rest here.)